The issue of alcohol and the Christian is an incredibly volatile subject causing great division and stern judgments on both sides. I have been deeply affected by this issue myself, as I have many friends and family members who are controlled by alcohol. I am not a teetotaler, but I rarely drink. I don’t like wine. Some beers are pretty good. I like tequila. But if the consumption of alcohol were made illegal, I would not even really notice.

Jesus Turns Water Into Wine at the Wedding Feast of Cana

There are so many different positions out there with regard to this issue. Let me try to name a few:

  1. Those who abstain from alcohol and believe that this is the biblical position for everyone.
  2. Those who abstain from alcohol but don’t believe this is a biblical mandate to enforce on others.
  3. Those who drink alcohol only for “celebratory” purposes (i.e., Lord’s table), but don’t get drunk.
  4. Those who casually drink wine or beer, but abstain from “hard liquor” and don’t get drunk.
  5. Those who casually drink alcohol in order to feel “merry” or “tipsy” but don’t get drunk.
  6. Those who drink alcohol and get drunk occasionally but are not “drunkards” (i.e. addicted).

Outside of this, all Christians would (or should) agree that being addicted to alcohol is expressly forbidden in Scripture, as it relinquishes control of our faculties to alcohol rather than to the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18). Paul warns Timothy about such abuses with regard to the qualifications of a deacon (1 Tim. 3:8) and elders (1 Tim. 3:3).

I am not going to discuss here which of the above positions is correct. However, I do want to discuss one passage of Scripture that infuses the debate over alcohol with great passion. It is the subject of Christ and his relation to alcohol while here on earth. Most specifically, I want to ask the question of whether Christ, during the miracle at the Wedding of Cana in John 2, turned the water into wine, unfermented grape juice, or something else. Here is the text:

John 2:1-11
On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. 3 When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6 Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. 9 When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.

This question raised by this passage does indeed contribute a great deal to the overall debate. For if Christ turned the water into an alcoholic beverage, then his participation in the issue certainly does not bode well for those who preach that the biblical position requires Christians to abstain from alcohol altogether. He would have been serving as a bartender, if you will, at a celebration where abuse of alcohol certainly may have taken place. More than that, there is no reason to doubt that he himself would have drunk this wine.

Yet some maintain that the wine Jesus produced was a non-fermented type of wine called “new wine” (kainos neos). In this case, it would be like grape juice. Others believe that the wine Jesus created was watered down so much that one would have to suffer a severe bladder problem in order to get drunk. However, neither of these interpretations are supported by the best textual scholarship, and seem to be driven by a desire to maintain a rigid teetotaler position.

New Wine is Unfermented Wine?

R. A. Torrey does a good job of representing the position that the wine Christ provided was unfermented “new wine.”

“[Jesus] provided wine, but there is not a hint that the wine He made was intoxicating. It was fresh-made wine. New-made wine is never intoxicating. It is not intoxicating until some time after the process of fermentation has set in. Fermentation is a process of decay. There is not a hint that our Lord produced alcohol, which is a product of decay or death. He produced a living wine uncontaminated by fermentation. It is true it was better wine than they had been drinking, but that does not show for a moment that it was more fermented than that which they had before been drinking” (Difficulties in the Bible).

However, there are significant problems with this argument. New wine was fermented. Its ability to cause intoxication is well represented in the Scriptures (Is 49:26; Hos 4:11; cf. Judg 9:13; see “Wine” Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. 1992 [J. B. Green, S. McKnight & I. H. Marshall, Ed.], 870, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press).

The happenings in Acts 2 represent this well. Having received the gift of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, the Apostles are speaking in tongues and sharing the Gospel with the people. Some people are amazed, but others accuse the Apostles of being intoxicated.

Acts 2:13: “But others, mocking, said, ‘They are filled with new wine’.”

How could the Apostles be accused of being intoxicated from a drink that is not fermented? There is no indication, either in the culture of the day or in the Bible, that there was such a thing as unfermented wine. Wine is wine because it is fermented.

Some scholars have attempted to contrast the two Hebrew terms for wine in the Old Testament to make a case that one was unfermented grape juice. However, the evidence does not support such a conclusion. Leaning heavily on C. Seltman, Wine in the Ancient World, the Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible draws this conclusion about the term that is purported to refer to grape juice:

(1) The Hebrew word is found in primarily neutral contexts; (2) often that particular word is found in contexts definitely including a fermented beverage (e.g., Gn 27:28; Hos 4:11; Mi 6:15); (3) the Ugaritic parallel to the term in question refers with certainty to a fermented wine (4) the Septuagint equivalents refer to fermented wine; (5) fermentation in the ancient Near East, unlike Greece, took only about three days, and (6) the Mishna provides no such evidence of the practice of having unfermented wine. There seems to have been no attempts to preserve wine in an unfermented state; it may have been a near impossible task.

It would seem that, for the Hebrews, there is no way to use the term “grape juice” as a substitute for wine. The article concludes: “A careful examination of all the Hebrew words (as well as their Semitic cognates) and the Greek words for wine demonstrates that the ancients knew little, if anything, about unfermented wine.

Watered Down Wine?

Some make the case that the wine used in the New Testament was so watered down that it was nearly impossible to cause one to get drunk. Norman Geisler make such a case:

Wine today has a much higher level of alcohol than wine in the New Testament. In fact in New Testament times one would need to drink twenty-two glasses of wine in order to consume the large amount of alcohol in two martinis today. (“A Christian Perspective on Wine-Drinking” Bibliotheca Sacra, Issue 553, 1982).

However, this does not seem to be the case. Geisler is assuming a mixture evidenced by some ancient Greeks. Homer writes about a water to wine ratio of 20 to 1 (Homer, Odyssey 10. 208f). However, this may be because the wine was so strong! The Mishna, which represents a better accounting of the Hebrew usage of wine, assumes a ratio of two parts of water to one part wine. The Talmudic sources speak of three to one. Wine often would contain 15% alcohol. Even if it were mixed with three parts of water, this would put it at 5% alcohol. This is a higher percentage than much beer today! Pliny, the Roman Senator writing in the first century, spoke about wine that could hold a flame. For this to happen, it would had to have been in excess of 30% alcohol! No wonder some speak of adding twenty parts water.

Not only this, but wine diluted with water was symbolic of spiritual adulteration. Isaiah 1:22, speaking to the infidelity of the nation of Israel, says, “Your silver has become dross, your best wine mixed with water.” Just before this, God gives this rebuke: “How the faithful city has become a whore, she who was full of justice! Righteousness lodged in her, but now murderers.” The nation had gone astray. It is not seen as a good thing to have diluted wine.

Further (and most importantly) the story of Jesus at the wedding does not support a conclusion that the wine Jesus made was either excessively watered down or grape juice. After the head waiter had tasted the wine Jesus made, he went to the bridegroom and said this: “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” What Jesus created was “good wine.” According to the waiter, the custom was to serve the “good wine” first; then, when the people had “drunk” much of the wine, they served the cheaper wine. This word for “drunk” is methusko, which means “to become intoxicated.” It is the same word used in Ephesians 5:18, “Do not get drunk [methusko] with wine…” (see also Luke 12:45; 1 Thes 5:7; Rev. 17:12). The only testimony we have about the state of the wine Christ created is the headwaiter’s review of it, and he suggests that it is the type that can intoxicate (i.e., it was fermented). It is very difficult to draw any other conclusion.

There’s No Reason to Think that Jesus Christ Didn’t Drink Wine

Added to this, there is no reason to believe that Christ himself did not drink this fermented wine. It is evident that He drank wine at the passover (Mark 14:23). In fact, Christ seemed to have made a habit of drinking wine. According to his own testimony, he drank wine that others abstained from.

For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ 34 The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” (Luke 7:33-34).

John the Baptist took a Nazirite vow and abstained from alcohol. But Christ did not. He explicitly says that he came “eating and drinking.” Because of this, others accused him of being a drunkard.

The implications for all of this are important in the discussion about alcohol and the Christian. Christ, in celebration of the Kingdom, produced an alcoholic beverage that could intoxicate. Christ was a bartender! This certainly does not solve any of the problems associated with alcohol. The problems are tremendous. But to be controlled by alcohol is not a modern problem. This problem has been around since ancient times. However, this does not mean that God forbids things that have the potential to be destructive. We must be careful that we don’t legislate God. It is not unlike issues of gun control, sugar consumption, or tobacco. All of these have potential to hurt people, all of these have a history of hurting people, all of these have people who attempt to force moderation or abstinence, but none of them are forbidden by God. We must be careful in what we attempt to forbid, even if the legislation is for a good purpose. The solution for problems associated with alcohol is not a mandate for abstinence, but education concerning its dangers.


C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    18 replies to "Did Jesus Turn Water into Wine or Grape Juice?"

    • Joshua

      Very informative article, I really enjoy your writing style.

      Whenever I get into discussions on this topic people will often use Proverbs 20:1 as an argument against the consumption of alcohol.
      I’m curious as to what your response would be to someone who stands on this verse.

      • Gerrit Coetzee

        Prov.20:1 , in line with the rest of the Scriptures, warns and commands against the misuse to the point of being drunk. Not against drinking. In stark contrast Deut.12 and 14 commands drinking of wine and strong drink. Further during the times of offering, God said in Lev that wines is not to be absent from the offerings to Him.

    • Soozcat

      This is an interesting discussion. As a practicing Mormon, I abstain from alcohol for religious reasons — but I agree with you that moderation, not abstention, is a Biblical principle and that Christ certainly did drink wine. (Mormons believe in a larger canon of scripture than the Old and New Testaments; our reason for abstention therefore does not spring from the Bible, but from a modern revelation known as the Word of Wisdom. This revelation is meant to apply specifically to Mormons, much as the injunction to abstain from alcohol applied specifically to the Nazirites.)

      Thank you for sharing your insights!

    • Shecky

      It amazes me how uninformed people have become. Here again is another “author” who thinks they know what they are talking about. They simply fail to understand that the bible was not written to you in the 21st century in the United States. The bible was written in the Eastern world with Eastern language, eastern philosophies, topics, culture, vernacular, history and towards Eastern people. The New world, ie: the USA was not established or founded at that point in time. Eastern people, especially the Hebrews were concrete eastern thinkers. They had just recently adopted Hellenization which was an abstract thought process, but the Eastern concrete way of thinking was still being used. If you don’t know the difference you shouldn’t be writing an article on biblical understanding because you fail to understand the root of it.

      Beyond that, you’re not understanding that in parts of the East drinking intoxicating beverages at weddings that were considered sacraments was never done. You must judge based on the culture of the times, hence the context in discussion. The bible is not a sunday school kind of lesson, it takes a mature heart and mind to understand. And that’s probably half the reason why people have no clue who the creator and his son are.

      • Him


        Please offer something of substance. If you have a deeper knowledge, insight, or understanding then share it, in love, with those who are willing to listen to and consider your take on the matter. Make it plain for us (i.e. me) laymen so we can contemplate the matter more effectively.

        When you say,“… you’re not understanding that in parts of the East drinking intoxicating beverages at weddings that were considered sacraments was never done.” what exactly are you trying to express or make clear? What is a wedding that is considered to be a sacrament? Were all weddings considered to be sacraments in certain areas of the East? Are you saying that the wedding which Jesus attended would not have served any intoxicating beverage?

        Personally, I appreciated the approach the author took.

      • Rudolf

        Don’t bother yourself with Shecky,he’s telling us indirectly that he doesn’t believe in what is written in the Bible.Yes, it is true that the bible is a book of profound wisdom, but does imply we can’t understand what is written in it.It is a matter of devotion and sincerity in order to understand the word of God.Normally, it is not good to approach God after consuming alcohol.Before making your prayers, you need to prepare yourself before you approach the Lord.It is not also advisable to offer prayers to God immediately after sexual intercourse.

    • Rob Eaglestone

      CMP: Also part of the wine/grape juice discussion:

      I read a document challenging some churches in the USA on their use of grape juice instead of wine during communion. I wonder if you have any thoughts about that?

    • Whitney

      “he shall separate himself from wine and strong drink. He shall drink no vinegar made from wine or strong drink and shall not drink any juice of grapes or eat grapes, fresh or dried. All the days of his separation he shall eat nothing that is produced by the grapevine, not even the seeds or the skins.”
      Numbers 6:3-4 ESV

      What this scripture says to me is that the term “wine” was just a fancy name for the juice drink that they made from the fruit of the vine (grapes), since I’m sure it was a delicacy back in those times. This scripture refers to wine AND strong drink…and then also the juice from grapes. This makes me think that it is referred to as wine once it is stored and ready for drinking. Obviously, though, the juice will eventually ferment when not stored properly..hence “good wine” and “poor wine.”

      So, we have wine, good wine, poor wine and strong drink. If all the wine mentioned in the bible was fermented, wouldn’t it just simply be referred to as “strong drink” since fermented wine causes drunkenness? And in the verse talking about how they mocked them saying they were drunk off new wine…maybe the term “mocked” meant that they were making fun of them saying that the new wine (unfermented) made them drunk? There are just too many different references to the term “wine” in the Bible for us to say that it was all fermented.

    • Larry

      Shecky, The Son IS the creator according to scripture. It is amazing that as soon as we read the word ‘wine’, we imagine a drunken wedding party. I believe wine was a common drink and used in many feasts. We take it for granted that when Jesus changed the water into wine that it became 15.86 percent alcoholic content immediately. I believe they were drinking wine for the taste rather than the kick. We just don’t know. I do have a real problem believing that Jesus would make this wine for the express purpose of allowing people the opportunity to get drunk.

    • Vukosi Selby

      If the shoe fits wear it… “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God… being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” ROM 3:23-24

    • Roger Crane

      Every one of you misses the most important point for Christians today, including the author here; but I am not surprised, because many people want an excuse to drink and there are plenty of the “letter of the law” people to give it to them (oh yeah, we all agree no one should get drunk, since it’s said over and over in the N. T. and so that’s beside the point). All the reasoning put forth is based on the time before the cross, before Jesus died and anyone became a Christian. That was a different culture, a different people, and a different religion. And Jesus was walking and talking in that milieu. The cross was the beginning of a new dispensation, and now it is quite immaterial whether Jesus made wine (but most scholars believe he did), and whether Jews drank fermented grape juice (they did). What is important is that we are to be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18) and not of this world and its ways. I can think of nothing which defines worldliness more than drinking, and when we rub elbows with them in this way, that is bad enough. But I won’t lose even one little part of the Spirit of God by giving way to the other “spirits.” How much does it take to be under control of it/them? Think about this for a change, and ask whether it’s pleasing to God–especially in a nation of alcoholics and others who are given over to their pleasures. No, we can’t regulate this for all Christians, and we wouldn’t want to (and you won’t lose your salvation over it); they have to grow up sometime and make those decision, but if pleasing God is not the most important thing to you, you’ll eventually lose out, anyway.





    • Jesus Christ

      Of course it was wine with alcohol. What is miraculous about making grape juice? The miracle was making fermented wine. The fermentation process takes a few weeks. Anybody could have squished some grapes and made juice.

      • Leo s

        No making simple grape juice is difficult. Not only do you have to grow grapes but there is also a process of making the juice. To not have any grapes around and instantly turn water into grape juice is miraculous. I’d be astonished myself.

    • John Martin

      Don’t know why we are answering Shecky. He has a problem with the Bible being relevant in the 21st century and doesn’t even understand that the Bible is the Living word of God and Sunday School is a good place to study God’s word with insight learned from the teacher and other students. The Bible was written for all ages past, present, and future. It is God’s love letter to us. Pray for the those who do not believe, the unsaved. John 3:16-17

    • Larry Kinsler

      I once did a three part Bible lesson entitled ” Christians And Wine “, where I went to all the Scriptures concerning wine. Three things became obvious; 1. Being drunken on wine is always condemned. 2. Being addicted to wine is always condemned, and 3. Merely partaking of wine is never condemned. In Psalm 104:15, we have God the creator actually making wine that ” makes glad the heart of man”. When we got to this Verse, a person in the audience at the time exclaimed” that’s the Holy Ghost “, demonstrating that they elevate the traditions of man ( tee-totalism )over the plain teaching of Scripture. Here is the study…

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